Redefining Indigenous Politics
June 1990 marked a turning point for Ecuadorian politics, with events
that changed Ecuadorian political culture and redefined the way differ-
ent social forces related to the state. A large number of indigenous people
from all over the country gathered in the streets of the capital Quito and
in many other provincial capitals to claim their rights as ethnically and
culturally diverse citizens. This powerful levantamiento (uprising), which
paralyzed major roads and commercial activities for an entire week, was
neither a sudden outburst, nor a chaotic and random protest. It was the
result of almost a century of indigenous political organizing in a country
in which, as in many others in Latin America, racial and ethnic discrimi-
nation has endured since the colonial era.
Equality in Diversity
As in other Andean countries, the process of formation of ethnic mili-
tancy in Ecuador began, in the early twentieth century, under the influ-
ence of left- wing parties and ideologies. As early as the 1920s, some indige-
nous activists, mostly in the highlands, presented the state with their first
formal demands for education and against what they identified as mis-
treatment and abuse. The process of indigenous organizing consolidated
in the 1950s around the struggle for agrarian reform laws, which gradually
led to the formation of indigenous grassroots organizations, federations,
and confederations, which in turn led to the formation of what scholars
and activists define as the Ecuadorian indigenous movement. The levanta-
miento of 1990 marked the maturation of this political mobilization, offi-
cially elevating indigenous political presence to the national level and
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